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Church and State pt 5: Transitioning to Practical Implications

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : March 1, 2007

I was intending to continue my series on Christian Anarchism with a forray into 1 Peter and Revelation.  But upon further reflection, I’ve concluded that it would be best to dig into the practical implications of Christian Anarchism.  I don’t think any of my present detractors would be convinced by digging into those passages.  And those of you who already agree (or are sympathetic) to my cause are probably ready for me to move ahead to what this stuff actually LOOKS LIKE in the North American context.  Those of you who have been dazzled by my hermeneutical wizardry will have to wait for the future, when I hope to give a blogging survey of the book of Revelation (I hope to begin that later this month).

To review: Christian Anarchism is essentially a rejection of the authority of the State over the lives of Christians.  This position flows out of the belief that the statement “Jesus is Lord” isn’t simply a spiritual reality, but a socio-political one as well.  The Kingdom of God, then, isn’t simply a future spiritual reality, but a largely present holistic reality.  Jesus’ teaching is counter-cultural largely because his Sermon-on-the-Mount-Vision isn’t a description of how things SHOULD BE or how his followers OUGHT TO BE, but a description of HOW THINGS ARE. 

All of this is to say that we are called to follow Jesus as our ACTUAL King and embrace his teachings as a an way to live within an ACTUAL Kingdom.  All of this is in direct conflict with the Kingship of Caesar and the way of the Empire. 

What that looks like for our day largely depends upon how much similarity we see between the Empire and the Powers of Jesus’ day and the Empire and the Powers of our day.  I tend to see more similarities between the Roman Empire and the American-led Consumer Capitalist Empire.  To me, both look an aweful lot like the Babylon of the book of Revelation.

To be a Christian Anarchist is the result of being a citizen of the Kingdom.  I don’t believe in dual citizenship.  To be a Christian Anarchist is to live in the Kingdom and resist the ways in which the Empire pushes against or limits our Kingdom freedom.

In the next several posts, I will look at the practical implications of Christian Anarchism in four follow-up posts:

1) how to relate to government and local politics

2) how to view economics

3) how to pursue justice

4) a brief word on war

Mark Van Steenwyk is the editor of JesusManifesto.com. He is a Mennonite pastor (Missio Dei in Minneapolis), writer, speaker, and grassroots educator. He lives in South Minneapolis with his wife (Amy), son (Jonas) and some of their friends.


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    Just watched Amazing Grace.

    pardon my french, but if you're going argue something wd be better, then you'd f***ing better have better args critiquing it.

    Yes Christianity declined in Great Britain and the US in the intervening centuries, but I don't see that as the fault of Wilberforce. I believe in missional holism, but that doesn't deny that we tend to specialize. It sounds to me like you're a foot saying that it'd be better if the hand was also a foot.

    Sorry I didn't get into your post above. I just watched the movie after I found out too late that classes were cancelled today and felt like posting something.

    We are under the authority of our temporal political rulers and when we understand better the nature of that authority and our submission to it, we will be better equipped to advance the kingship of God. You're raising up a false understanding that purports to see things as they are, when when it comes to Church-State relations we all see but dimly through mirror and yet must act accordingly.
    dlw
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    • v
    my apologies for the above, it was composed as I was worked up after watching the movie.

    dlw
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    Thanks for the apology...but I still need to challenge your tone. I mean this lovingly, but you write more on my blog than I do. And often your tone is a bit condescending. In the last post it was down right rude. I'm not keeping you from specializing...by all means, engage the system from within. I don't think it is bad to do so...in fact, as I hope to post later, there are some ways to carefully engage the system from within. However, I would posit, one never does so out of submission to the authority of the State. I think you'll find that the way it looks (as I'll get to later) is more nuanced than you'd expect.

    Dlw...please stop trying to woo me to your pov with long posts on my blog. I feel like every time you comment it is rehashing what you've already made clear. Please let me move on to the applications of my ideas. I read your blog--that is where you get to write long challenging posts. I'll try to keep an open mind, and I want to still push back and forth about this stuff...but I think your responses on my blog are often overkill.
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    Just found this blog searching on "church and state", a subject I have been paying attention to for a while. Agree with many views. The big question is if not subject to state, how does government proceed. What I believe Paul means is if we do not what to be subject to Ceaser then we ought to govern ourselves. The Roman law had that opportunity for those who could so constitute themselves, thus I perceive.
    Thanks, Don
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    Yay! I look forward to your cogent thoughts.
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    Thanks for the apology…but I still need to challenge your tone. I mean this lovingly, but you write more on my blog than I do. And often your tone is a bit condescending. In the last post it was down right rude.

    dlw: If I come across as condescending it is because I find works that proclaim political theology from interps of the Bible without study of political theory/social sciences, my area of study, to be jarring myself.

    I am sorry for overposting.

    I am also sorry I was rude abvoe. I think internet communications facillitate rudeness. I got so worked up from watching that movie that I didn't get much work done last night. Like I said, there's something very jarring for me to say WW could be better.

    MVS:I’m not keeping you from specializing…by all means, engage the system from within. I don’t think it is bad to do so…in fact, as I hope to post later, there are some ways to carefully engage the system from within. However, I would posit, one never does so out of submission to the authority of the State.

    dlw: And that's what's critically wrong. That is a Constantinian understanding. One does not reject the authority of the State when one seeks to alter how it wields its authority. Its like with environmentalism, one is not rejecting the God-given rulership/stewardship of Humanity over creation when one seeks to change the ways we rule/steward our ecosystems.

    MVS:I think you’ll find that the way it looks (as I’ll get to later) is more nuanced than you’d expect.

    dlw: Well, one can be inconsistent, but that doesn't mean the theological point is not an important one.

    Dlw…please stop trying to woo me to your pov with long posts on my blog. I feel like every time you comment it is rehashing what you’ve already made clear. Please let me move on to the applications of my ideas. I read your blog–that is where you get to write long challenging posts. I’ll try to keep an open mind, and I want to still push back and forth about this stuff…but I think your responses on my blog are often overkill.

    dlw: okay. No problems. I am a fallibilist and so I need to recognize that my strategies need to be updated. Please do bear in mind that I am both critiquing your theology and overwhelmingly affirming your ministry. I thought that someone needed to point out the disconnect between your well done exegesis of Scripture and your advocacy of Christian Anarchism.

    dlw
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    dlw,

    I appreciate your background as a social scientist...but to me that means you have a vested interested in participating within existing socio-politics. I'm willing to dialog further, but it is hard to go along with you when you assume a privileged role in the conversation.

    From my vantage point, there isn't a huge disconnect between exegesis and my advocacy of Christian Anarchism. I'm not certain that their is a disconnect between my exegesis and your subsidiarian view of the role of the State. I simply think we bring different assumptions and theological grids into the spaces of the text. Sure, I think my assumptions fit the vibe and flavors of the NT better, but that's why they're my assumptions.

    That isn't to say that I'm non chalant about my assumptions--or yours--I'm very serious about my convictions, but I reject the notion of certainty.

    In the end, it is more important that Christians as a whole embrace more direct forms of action in society. I'm not particularly interested in getting folks to reject voting and whatnot. Personally, I reject such things in my attempt to live as consistently as possible as well as my attempt to explore the ideas I find in Scripture to the full. I am open to change, however. So, for me, orthopraxy in this stuff is more important than orthodoxy. That is to say, if folks embrace the direct forms of action within the Church, I'm not really that upset if they engage in the sorts of American political action that others find appropriate.

    I'm wondering if we can begin to find some areas of agreement. And find which precise issues we disagree over.

    Would you agree with the following emphases:

    1) We recognize our allegiance to Jesus first and foremost.
    2) We value kinship in Christ over national allegiances.
    3) As a whole, the church is the church, and doesn't outsource its function to the State.

    Am I correct in assuming that we disagree over the following:

    4) The call to follow Christ is a call to put aside violence.
    5) Allegiance to Christ is such that there isn't room for other political allegiances.

    This is an area over which there may be some agreement or disagreement:

    6) We must engage in public discourse in the social sphere in a very Christocentric way. In other words, we mustn't pursue "common good" in a way that isn't centered on Jesus Christ.
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    Just recently found this blog and I haven't gotten to dig in to your older stuff on this topic, but may I just give a hearty, AMEN!

    Even if Christian Anarchism isn't the exactly right or only correct way to read the New Testament, which I think it just might be, this would still be a very very needed critique to overcome the pervasive influence of "christendom" thought in the church.

    I look forward to engaging in this at a deeper level.
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    I just want to know about that Che-esque picture of Jesus.
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    dlw,

    I appreciate your background as a social scientist…but to me that means you have a vested interested in participating within existing socio-politics. I’m willing to dialog further, but it is hard to go along with you when you assume a privileged role in the conversation.

    dlw: I presume knowledge about the extent we are interwoven in the system in my claim that one cannot escape it and that not voting does not help in this regard. I privilege your exegesis abilities as greater than mine.

    MVS:From my vantage point, there isn’t a huge disconnect between exegesis and my advocacy of Christian Anarchism. I’m not certain that their is a disconnect between my exegesis and your subsidiarian view of the role of the State. I simply think we bring different assumptions and theological grids into the spaces of the text. Sure, I think my assumptions fit the vibe and flavors of the NT better, but that’s why they’re my assumptions.

    dlw: But when it comes to the role of the State in the advancement of the kingship of God, we can't both be right and I think trying to work towards an understanding on this does matter. My month and a half spent in Ukraine, I interviewed evangelicals there about the Orange Revolution and whether Jesus was political. I saw there the impact of life under Communism and how that made people dualistic in their faith, whereby many pastors were allergic to politics because of the memories of when they had been coerced into declaring that Jesus was a Communist/Marxist in the old days. This is part of why I believe that we are still dealing with theological/ideological scar-tissue from the 30 years war.

    I'm not saying that we don't dialogue with the Anabaptist positions, I wouldn't read Yoder(and I'm starting to get into more Hauerwas) if that weren't the case. I just think the way the US's democracy has declined significantly in the past thirty-some years shd not make us so pessimistic. There's a thing called "self-fulfilling prophecies". If we are more disciplined in how we act (politically and otherwise), things can change somewhat in ways that will matter. The rest of the world watches the US's politics more than our faith practices. Perhaps, we can garner more of their attention to our faith practices if we act more as salt-n-light in politics?

    MVS:That isn’t to say that I’m non chalant about my assumptions–or yours–I’m very serious about my convictions, but I reject the notion of certainty.

    dlw: What about the notion of whether and when we are willing to change our views? I've changed in my views, even since when I started as sem-student.

    MVS:In the end, it is more important that Christians as a whole embrace more direct forms of action in society. I’m not particularly interested in getting folks to reject voting and whatnot. Personally, I reject such things in my attempt to live as consistently as possible as well as my attempt to explore the ideas I find in Scripture to the full.

    dlw: Consistency is not the same as validity. One can be consistently wrong. Part of the idea of the house church model, even the minimalist approach, was to recognize that my own past behavior had fallen short of the communalistic model, but to also recognize that one could combine some political action with that model. I think from a consequentialist standpoint, it doesn't matter whether an action is direct or non-direct.

    MVS I am open to change, however. So, for me, orthopraxy in this stuff is more important than orthodoxy. That is to say, if folks embrace the direct forms of action within the Church, I’m not really that upset if they engage in the sorts of American political action that others find appropriate.

    dlw: I guess I think the two must be linked and when our practices change, that implies our understandings are also changing, perhaps subtly thru shifts in the meanings of the words we use. This is also inline with my criticism of the developments in the Christian Church in the 2nd and 3rd ctries of its existence, when traditions were being developed that supposedly were inline with Scripture while at the same time changing Christian practices. I think this may have been what led for us to severe the tie between the two that Paul has in his letters.

    MVS:I’m wondering if we can begin to find some areas of agreement. And find which precise issues we disagree over.

    Would you agree with the following emphases:

    1) We recognize our allegiance to Jesus first and foremost.
    dlw: Amen, but I think we also our contextualized and can thereby owe allegiance to our country. This allegiance to country can be seen as ideally part of loving our neighbor, provided we gird ourselves against having our nationalism manipulated.

    2) We value kinship in Christ over national allegiances.
    dlw: The devil is in the details here. Yes, our allegiance to our country shd be relativized by our kinship in Christ and commitment to advancing the kingship of God.

    3) As a whole, the church is the church, and doesn’t outsource its function to the State.
    dlw: I think the issue here whether the church is the church in trying to make the State perform its function better. I see our ability to be hospitable inextricably intertwined with the institution of private property, which is based on the State performing its proper function. I believe that the function of the State is not something that was set out for once and for all in the past at the time of Jesus or since then. So there is some choice in what interests the State will wield its monopology on legit violence on behalf of. It can come to wield its influence on behalf of more people throught programs like the Basic Income Guarantee. I find changes like that as key for the support of ministries like yours.

    Am I correct in assuming that we disagree over the following:

    4) The call to follow Christ is a call to put aside violence.

    dlw: It is a call to put aside the belief that the use of violence, legit or non-legit, can solve the worlds problems. It is also a call to prevent the sorts of violence that harm the advancement of the kingship of God, like the Jewish Rebellions that led to the Roman destruction of much of Jerusalem in AD70 or GWII(and all wars to an extent).

    My diff is that I believe Christians may participate in the administration of the legit violence of the State or alter how the legit violence is used, as William Wilberforce et al did to end the slave trade.

    5) Allegiance to Christ is such that there isn’t room for other political allegiances.

    dlw: Allegiance to Christ relativizes temporal and conditional political allegiances.

    This is an area over which there may be some agreement or disagreement:

    6) We must engage in public discourse in the social sphere in a very Christocentric way. In other words, we mustn’t pursue “common good” in a way that isn’t centered on Jesus Christ.

    dlw: I don't use the word "common good" (I use the terms "public policy" and "private property" once each in my statement of faith. The words public and private do not otherwise show up.) when I express my theological beliefs that under gird my political deliberations and actions (I think theology needs to be integrated, not "political".). I do on occasion adopt the language and frames of non-Christians in dialogue on issues. I see this as following the example of Paul (the verse where he talks about becoming all things so that some may believe. I see this as relativizing the import of using "the language of faith".) I believe we can try to reframe issues and impact the language used, but we shd not claim a privileged position for our frames or language on behalf of our faith. We are participants in the market of ideas, but our actions reflect our faith-based deliberations and ultimately thru the HS shd impact others action/frames as well.

    so I hope I made it clear that I am not advocating a return to "christendom" thought. This is partially why these dialogues can be interesting, because we agree enough that our diffs seem to loom a bit larger...

    peace,
    dlw

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